Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rick Perry says he’s being treated unfairly because of his Christianity

WASHINGTON — Rick Perry’s wild ride in the Republican presidential race took another turn Friday when the Texas governor complained of being treated unfairly by his party and discriminated against because of his Christian faith.

Perry, the one-time Republican front-runner whose support has tumbled over the past two weeks, said he agreed with statements by his wife, Anita, that he had been “brutalized” because he is a Christian and singled out for attack during televised presidential debates.

“I’ll stand by my wife. I think she’s right on both cases,” Perry said Friday.

Her claim that her husband had been “brutalized” overshadowed the Texas governor’s attempt to regain momentum on Friday with a speech outlining his new energy policy.

“I do have one of the finest women in the world that I could be married to, and she is passionate,” Perry told Good Morning America. “And I will tell you for sure that family members generally take these campaigns harder than anyone else.”

The idea of Perry being a victim first emerged on Thursday during a speech his wife gave in North Grenville University in South Carolina, in which she called her husband the “only true conservative” in the Republican race.

Rabbit-Hole Economics

Reading the transcript of Tuesday’s Republican debate on the economy is, for anyone who has actually been following economic events these past few years, like falling down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, you find yourself in a fantasy world where nothing looks or behaves the way it does in real life.

And since economic policy has to deal with the world we live in, not the fantasy world of the G.O.P.’s imagination, the prospect that one of these people may well be our next president is, frankly, terrifying.

In the real world, recent events were a devastating refutation of the free-market orthodoxy that has ruled American politics these past three decades. Above all, the long crusade against financial regulation, the successful effort to unravel the prudential rules established after the Great Depression on the grounds that they were unnecessary, ended up demonstrating — at immense cost to the nation — that those rules were necessary, after all.

But down the rabbit hole, none of that happened. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because of runaway private lenders like Countrywide Financial. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because Wall Street pretended that slicing, dicing and rearranging bad loans could somehow create AAA assets — and private rating agencies played along. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers exploited gaps in financial regulation to create bank-type threats to the financial system without being subject to bank-type limits on risk-taking.

English-sounding names hold edge for job seekers in survey

Looking for a job? If your name is Panav Singh, expect fewer callbacks than Matthew Wilson, even if your resumés are exactly the same.

Employers in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal “significantly discriminate” against applicants with Chinese and Indian names compared to those with English names, researchers have found.

On average, resumés with English-sounding names received 35 per cent more callbacks, according to a study supported by Metropolis B.C., a federally funded immigration and diversity research centre.

Researchers sent out thousands of resumés listing identical experience to online job application sites, changing only the names of the applicants, and measured the response rate from employers.

Recruiters in Toronto and Montreal were 45 per cent more likely to call Alison Johnson over Min Liu, while Vancouverites were 20 per cent more likely to respond to those with English-sounding names.

“The name draws unconditional stereotypes, no matter what else is on the resumé,” said researcher Philip Oreopoulos, a University of Toronto professor.

Fears that people with non-English names would have language troubles prompted recruiters to call Carrie over Xiuying, the study found.

We need a global army of tax collectors

How do you scrape together an extra trillion? That, in the end, is what the world needs to know. And the answer is right in front of us.

It’s the question being posed, sotto voce, by the finance ministers and central bankers gathered in Paris this weekend in a bid to stop the European crisis from spiralling out of control.

A trillion euros, more or less, is what needs to be put up by the continent’s governments, and soon, to stabilize the economies and get banks lending and companies hiring again. And, across the Atlantic, a trillion dollars is what many observers feel ought to be put into the U.S. economy, quick, to get growth and employment back on track. (Instead, hampered by Congress, Barack Obama’s jobs bill offers a pale fraction of that.) Without spending a trillion, both these huge economies could lose a lot more, fast.

But a thousand billion in anyone’s currency is not to be found by looking under sofa cushions. Nobody has it lying around; quite the contrary, everyone holds a lot of debt, and the sums needed to kick the world’s economies into gear could raise that debt to crisis levels.

Ford family firms gave mayor’s campaign a break on late payment fees

Two companies owned by the Ford family provided goods and services worth $187,730.96 to Mayor Rob Ford’s election team, accounting for almost 10 per cent of campaign spending. But documents filed with the city indicate that while the campaign waited up to a year to pay many of these bills, the two firms – Deco Labels and Tags and Doug Ford Holdings Inc. – did not charge late fees.

Many suppliers, including the City of Toronto, impose such charges after a 30-to-60-day grace period, typically in the 1 to 2 per cent range, compounded monthly.

With Mr. Ford facing a possible compliance audit, the forgone late charges raise new questions about whether the campaign benefited from an indirect corporate donation worth at least $12,000, according to a Globe and Mail analysis of the campaign’s accounts payable payments. Toronto council policy prevents candidates from accepting corporate or trade union contributions.

Mr. Ford has always denied violating election finance laws and is appealing the compliance audit committee’s May ruling. The case will be heard in the spring.

The compliance audit fight means the city can’t issue rebate cheques – worth up to 75 per cent of the donation – to Mr. Ford’s contributors until the dispute is resolved.

The empire Sino-Forest built and the farmers who paid the price

This tiny hamlet, a huddle of a few dozen mud-brick and wood homes high in the mountains that are the craggy climb to the Tibetan Plateau, is the kind of place where nothing ever happens. The pace of life is such that cattle can stand for a long while in the middle of the town’s lone dirt road without disrupting traffic, which even at the busiest times of day is only the occasional lumbering truck.

So when a quartet of officials from the county forestry bureau arrived one day three years ago, driving all over the mountains with odd-looking machines in their hands, it caused quite a commotion. Even still, none of the nosy residents could have anticipated that the arrival of the four men with the hand-held GPS devices was a moment that would bring that rarest of commodities to Anjia: change.

The arrival of the forestry officials dumped the unprepared residents of Anjia, a corner of China’s Yunnan province that seems to exist in the 19th century, and dozens of others like it, into the world of 21st century finance. An effort to reform China’s forestry industry – which was supposed to help close the wide wealth chasm between the country’s rural and urban halves – resulted instead in a parade of swindlers and middlemen to places like Anjia, persuading the locals to sign away the usage rights to their land for a pittance, then selling it to bigger foreign and domestic companies that were looking to cash in on one of the biggest property transfers in history.

In the case of Anjia and three other towns around it, the end buyer was Sino-Forest Corp. (TRE-T4.81----%), a Toronto-listed company run by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, Allen Chan, who devised a way to profit from that land shift and from Canadian investors’ hunger for a Chinese growth story. By accumulating tracts of forestland all over China – then raising billions of dollars from investors to do it over and over again – Sino-Forest grew to be the largest forestry firm on the Toronto Stock Exchange, at one point valued at some $6-billion, until it came crashing down this summer under allegations of massive fraud. In late August, Mr. Chan quit as chief executive officer and four other executives were put on leave or stripped of their duties while the company and the Ontario Securities Commission investigate.

City not nearly as broke as mayor suggests

The barrage of the bungling barbarians continues unabated.

One day they propose to destroy the waterfront. The next day they muse about cutting cultural grants, even as the world gathers for the international film festival. They suggest we close libraries, sell our zoos, offload our heritage museums.

Today, they want to sell off 706 buildings that house poor people.

The budget alarm is louder than normal this year only because the guy with the bullhorn, Mayor Rob Ford, has created a crisis to cut services in what he considers a bloated government.

Every evidence flies in the face of this characterization of wanton waste at city hall. Still, every crumb that falls triggers claims the whole bread is spoiled so let’s can the baker.

Amidst the noise and the haste, remember that the budget won’t be set till January and many a trial balloon will be floated to gauge public reaction. So, be steadfast and vigilant and vocal about the type of city you want; don’t cower and despair.

It’s discombobulating to hear that the city is expecting an extra $130 million — most of it from higher land transfer tax revenues — when just last week councillors were struggling with what services to cut in order to reach a phantom target everyone knew would change by this week. And will change again before the year ends and the new budget is set.

Pay up, city tells Mammoliti

The City of Toronto has retained an outside lawyer to assist in its efforts to collect $74,000 from Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a key ally of Mayor Rob Ford.

Under former mayor David Miller, city council paid Mammoliti the money to cover his cost of defending himself against a challenge to his campaign expenses in the 2006 election.

Mammoliti had submitted legal fees of $36,598 and $15,487 for an analysis of his campaign office rent. Council paid those amounts, plus $22,320 to cover the income tax hit.

The city issued a letter demanding payment and retained lawyer Greg Richards at Weir Foulds to assist, said city solicitor Anna Kinastowski.

City staff went outside rather than give the file to a city lawyer because Mammoliti is, in effect, their boss as a member of city council, Kinastowski said.

The legal department had warned council that it didn’t have the legal authority to make the payment to Mammoliti, but council voted to do so anyway.

Trouble island

UNDER intense international pressure to lift banking secrecy, the first and biggest of the world’s “tax havens”—places that charge low or no taxes to foreigners—is ceding some ground. In a deal signed on October 6th, Switzerland agreed to tax money held in its banks by British residents (it had already done a similar deal with Germany). These customers face a levy of up to 34% as well as, from 2013, a withholding tax.

That could bring the British treasury around £5 billion ($7.8 billion). But Nicholas Shaxson, author of “Treasure Islands”, a book on offshore finance (and a former contributor to this paper), calls it a “Swiss tax swizz”: the country will in effect pay a fat fee to avoid revealing clients’ names. That undermines efforts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based club of mostly rich countries, to set international standards on tax evasion.

The fact that Switzerland did a deal at all reflects a changing climate for offshore finance, which has flourished for 50 years. Its defenders still have strong arguments to muster. The most controversial is the Swiss stance, which sees tax as a morally neutral battle of wits against the fiscal authorities: quite different from money-laundering or fraud. From that viewpoint, banking secrecy is a human right and states that try to overturn it are overreaching their powers.

Top dog for ever

BY ITS end, most people would agree, the 20th century was an American century. Mitt Romney says that he wants the 21st century to be American too. That seems a little greedy. Britain had a good claim to be top nation roughly from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to the first world war, a hundred years that struck a lot of non-Britons as quite enough of a good thing, thank you very much. Still, accept for the sake of argument that the Republican front-runner is correct when he says that God did not create America to be just “one of several equally balanced global powers”. How does he propose, given the economic rise of China, India and Latin America, the spread of nuclear weapons, and the general bolshiness of assorted Russians, Arabs and Persians, to keep America on top for the whole of the 21st century?

Nobody can accuse Mr Romney of failing to think hard about this question. The subtitle of “No Apology”, the book he published in 2010, is “the case for American greatness”. As befits a man with a 59-point jobs plan, he has now also produced a voluminous “white paper” on foreign policy. To sharpen his thinking, he has assembled a regiment of advisers from every hue of the foreign-policy spectrum. All of this came to a head on October 7th, when Mr Romney set out his vision for a new American century in a speech to military cadets in South Carolina. Unfortunately, the speech and the paper suggest that neither prolonged cogitation nor extravagant consultation have produced much that is new. In foreign policy as in so much else, Mr Romney’s instinct is to cling to the middle, play safe and avoid controversy.

Alleged Inhumane Conditions for Post-9/11 Suspects Sparks Global Scrutiny of U.S. Detention Policies

Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, detention policies in the United States are facing increasing scrutiny both here and abroad. American citizen Tarek Mehanna is set to stand trial this month on charges of "conspiring to support terrorism" and "providing material support to terrorists." Mehanna is accused of trying to serve in al-Qaeda’s "media wing." He was 27 years old when he was arrested in October 2009 and has been held in solitary confinement since then. Mehanna was originally courted by the FBI to become an informant. Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights is hearing a case on the legality of extradition of terror suspects to the United States on the grounds that inmates are subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement and routine violations of due process. This could become a landmark case in human rights law, potentially damaging the international reputation of the U.S. legal system. To discuss detention policies since 9/11 in the United States, we’re joined by Tarek Mehanna’s brother, Tamer, and Gareth Peirce, one of Britain’s best-known human rights attorneys. She’s represented numerous prisoners held at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, as well as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Giving Wall Street No Quarter

What do you do when a society socializes losses and privatizes gains? You say no.

This system, whose description I’m taking from a speech Joseph Stiglitz recently gave to the people of Zuccotti Park, is complex, multivalent, pervasive. There is no single solution. There is no tyrant to topple, no proposition to defeat. Occupy Wall Street and its expanding set of subsidiaries can best be understood as a collective no. If it were happening in Germany, it would be a “doch!” accompanied by a stomped foot. We do not agree. You do not have our consent. We will not co-operate. This legalized, institutionalized, calcified inequity must change.

The breadth of the protest has been represented by its opponents as incoherence. With the exception of those who are willfully trying to misrepresent it, I’d say it’s closer to the truth to say it’s their understanding of the issue that lacks cohesion. It’s a mistake to assume that things are too complicated to understand, that because many of these protestors and their allies are not familiar with collateralized debt obligations, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Constituent parts of things often are abstruse, but the bigger things, the things that ultimately matter, are mostly either apparent, or instinctually comprehensible.

Like the current economic situation in the U.S. It’s not naïve to point to the graph of employee-to-CEO pay gaps over the last forty years and say something’s going wrong. Those numbers and their divergent paths are basic and concrete. Sure, they reflect the changing values of a society, but when values and value overlap so literally and completely, there is little room left for subjectivity.

Walmart Warehouse Under Investigation By California Labor Officials

WASHINGTON -- Investigators in California have discovered numerous labor law violations at a massive warehouse handling Walmart goods, according to state officials.

At the warehouse in Riverside County, Calif., operated by Walmart contractor Schneider Logistics, inspectors with the state labor department found that two of the temporary staffing agencies who supply manual labor have not been keeping track of how much money workers are owed.

One firm, Impact Logistics, Inc., was issued a $499,000 fine for not providing itemized wage statements to the workers who unload and load products at the facility. The company was also issued a warning for failing to maintain time records, and another staffing agency, Premier Warehousing Ventures, was issued a similar warning. There are around 200 workers at the warehouse.

Impact Logistics did not return a phone call seeking comment. Jim Pittman, chief operating officer of Premier, said the company plans on proving that it was actually in full compliance with the law. "My employees mean the world to me," Pittman said. "It is our intent to abide by all of the labor laws whether it be in California or the other states we work in."

Obama Sends Military Advisers To Central Africa To Help Fight Lord's Resistance Army

WASHINGTON — Intervening in a volatile and brutal crisis, President Barack Obama said Friday he has dispatched 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to support a years-long fight against a guerrilla group accused of horrific atrocities. Obama said they were sent to advise, not engage in combat, unless forced to defend themselves.

In a letter to Congress, Obama said the troops will act as advisers in a long-running battle against the Lord's Resistance Army, considered one of Africa's most ruthless rebel groups, and help to hunt down its notorious leader, Joseph Kony.

The first of the troops arrived in Uganda on Wednesday, the White House said, and others will be sent to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

While the size of the U.S. footprint is small, Obama's announcement represents a highly unusual intervention for the United States. Although some American troops are based in Djibouti and small groups of soldiers have been deployed to Somalia, the U.S. traditionally has been reluctant to commit forces to help African nations put down insurgencies.

Occupy Toronto: Copycat protest or the start of a true people’s revolution

Put aside political leanings and patience for eclectic protesters clogging city streets and blowing into vuvuzelas— if just for a moment.

There is something happening. And Saturday morning, it’s coming here.

VOICES: Six protesters explain why they’re part of OccupyTO

Earlier this year, public squares in Egypt and Tunisia erupted. In Tel Aviv, they built and slept in tent cities. In India, one man’s hunger strike inspired hundreds of thousands of anti-corruption protesters to claim the streets. Demonstrations in Greece have paralyzed the country.

Then, this July, Vancouver advocacy magazine Adbusters called on 20,000 “redeemers, rebels and radicals” to take over lower Manhattan and occupy Wall Street. Hacktivist collective “Anonymous” answered the call by video. A group by the name General Assembly began holding meetings, rallying around an anti-corporate, anti-greed, anti-big bank cause.

  At 10 a.m. Saturday Toronto occupiers follow others from cities around the world and rally against corporate greed and other issues. For full coverage, including a live blog of the day’s events stay with and send us your photos of the action at

Occupy Toronto protesters are primed to take over Bay Street

TORONTO — A group gathered at dusk near the University of Toronto Thursday, more than 200 strong, to plan an occupation of Canada’s biggest financial district, in the style of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who have taken over a New York City park for the past three weeks.

Occupy Toronto will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at King and Bay streets. The group will then head to an undisclosed location in the financial district to set up camp.

Similar events are planned across the country that day, with the events in Toronto and Vancouver expected to be the largest.

Occupiers want to send a message to the financial sector but, much like the occupiers in the U.S., the Toronto group doesn’t have a central message or demands — at least not yet.

What the Toronto group decides to say will be determined by consensus during a General Assembly — the consensual decision-making process the activists will use — after the occupation begins.

While there’s no message as yet, there are a few rules. “Can we please commit to a space free of racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise oppressive language?” asked Kevin Konnyu, a photographer who volunteered to facilitate Thursday’s General Assembly.

CAW throws support behind growing Occupy movement

Unions are offering their support to the Canadian version of Occupy Wall Street, giving a boost to the nascent movement as activists prepare to begin their own demonstrations against corporate greed and inequality.

Canadian Auto Workers, Service Employees International Union, and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada have all endorsed the movement and said some of their members will take to the streets on Saturday.

“We are encouraging people to participate in peaceful demonstrations,” CAW president Ken Lewenza said on Friday. “The issues being fought on Wall Street and this weekend on Bay Street are issues that we have been talking about for quite some time.”

Activists say they will gather in Toronto on Saturday to highlight the gap between the wealthy few and the rest of the world. Hundreds of similar events are planned to begin in cities around the world on Saturday.

Ford’s child-care task force meets in secret

The head of Mayor Rob Ford’s task force on child care says its three remaining meetings might be held behind closed doors, after two other councillors cried foul for being turfed from its first meeting.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti told the Star Thursday night, after Janet Davis and Kristyn Wong-Tam were ordered out of a city hall committee room and the door closed, that the three remaining meetings — Oct. 19, Oct. 26 and Nov. 3 — would be open to the public and councillors.

But on Friday Mammoliti (Ward 7 York West) he said that might not be the case. “A decision on that hasn’t been made yet,” he said.

Ford has said Toronto can no longer afford to fund 2,000 child-care spots subsidized by the city alone. He has asked the province to help pay for them and formed the task force to explore cheaper ways to provide more spots for low-income Torontonians.

Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) tried to attend the first meeting Thursday night but were ordered out of the room by Mammoliti and told by Ford’s staff “they mayor did not want us there.”